Witness in ex-Va. gov trial: Gifts were for business

RICHMOND, Va. (WUSA9) -- The prosecution's star witness in the federal corruption trial of former Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell and his wife delivered damaging testimony Thursday. Jonnie Williams is the wealthy businessman who gave the McDonnells $165,000 in gifts and loans to the McDonnells and his children.

On the stand, Williams portrayed himself as a reluctant Santa Claus, only giving gifts when asked and only because he wanted something from the governor.

The prosecution detailed every gift that Williams gave to the McDonnells. Williams says it was Maureen who requested most of the gifts. The jury got to hold and examine one of most talked about gifts... the Rolex watch. Williams said he bought the watch for the governor at Mrs. McDonnell's request. He said he purchased it at Malibu Jewelers for between $6000 and $7000 dollars. He said he regreted buying the Rolex. "I should not have had to buy things like that to get the help I needed...I made a mistake when I bought it...I knew it was wrong."

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Williams admitted on the stand that he knew what he was doing was wrong. Maybe illegal.

"I didn't want anyone to know I was helping the governor financially while he was helping out company." he said.

He acknowledged that he'd been given two immunity deals with the government and that he'd lied previously when talking to the FBI. But he said he was telling the truth on the stand and knew he would only risk going to jail if he lied on the stand and committed perjury.

Williams lavished the McDonnells and their children with golf outings, stays at his vacation home, a shopping spree in New York, use of his Ferrari and his private Leer jet. He expressed regret for all of the gifts, and said that it was mostly Maureen who kept asking. One time, he said she asked him to buy a car for one of her children. He refused saying that would be too visible. He said, "I thought we had an understanding she was helping me, they were helping me. But the thought of writing a check to a car dealership for one of the McDonnell's children I didn't even know, I just had a tough time with that."

LIVE UPDATES: U.S. vs. Bob & Maureen McDonnell trial

Williams said the McDonnells asked him for loans to help them with their troubled real estate in Virginia Beach. He ended up giving them three loans, two for $50,000 and one for $20,000. But at one point, Williams said he discussed with Governor McDonnell a plan to loan him shares of Star Scientific that would allow him to borrow against them. He said they considered this as a way to lend money without disclosing it. But, after learning it would have to be disclosed, he opted to just provide the loans.

To corroborate that story, the prosecution showed this email from Bob McDonnell to Williams:

"Johnnie: know you've been slammed. Do you want me to call your lawyer on the certificates and the documents. Thanks for all your help. gov. "

Williams said he gave the gifts to get the governor's help in securing state-funded studies on his company's Star Scientific's health supplement called Anatabloc.

"Though the ends justify the means. It was a bad mistake. I should never have written the checks." said Williams.

He never got the studies and the former governor insists he did nothing wrong.

"The truth will come out," Bob McDonnell said as he entered the federal courthouse today.

Williams did get a launch party for Antabloc at the governor's mansion, and at least one meeting with Virginia Secretary of Health Bill Hazel, though Williams said Hazel wasn't very enthusiastic about the product.

Maureen McDonnell's defense Attorney Bill Burck began cross examination of Williams late in the day. He took an unusual strategy by asking Mr. Williams to talk about himself and how he became a wealthy businessman. He was engaging and wove a fascinating tale of an entrepreneur who successfully started up five businesses and made discoveries about a compound in tobacco that he believes will fight disease. He said he had the support of a Johns Hopikins doctor and others.

Williams was asked about his generosity. Williams said he's been known to buy $5000 bottles of Cognac friends. As for himself, he says he doesn't like Cognac. He prefers milkshakes from Carl's in Fredericksburg.

Williams will return to the stand Friday.


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